How to Work a Garter Tab for a Top-Down Lace Shawl

We never get tired of knitting shawls, do we? I have so many in my closet; I love to wear them bundled at the neck like a scarf, especially tucked into a coat this time of year. I’ve pondered their popularity; I think we love them in part because they provide a canvas for working with precious handdyed yarns, and for sock yarns, which we all tend to collect. It just happens; you grab a colorful skein at a festival, at the LYS while you’re traveling, and suddenly you have all this mismatched fingering-weight yarn in your stash. Shawls are the answer.

In the Gifts issue this year, we ran this cool shawl design, which comes in two sizes. The smaller version requires just one skein of yarn, and the larger one two skeins. Either way, it’s a great project for limited yardage, as well as for practicing some lace and shawl skills. The All Points East Shawl is a top-down triangle, which begins with something we call the “garter tab.” This is a common technique for top-down shawls and I’d like to go over the concepts a bit here.

You can purchase the yarn and pattern for the one-skein version or two-skein version for a limited time!

Top-down triangle lace shawls

In the photos of the shawls above, I’ve circled the garter tab. This is essentially the cast-on for the shawl; you can see the whole shawl grows out from that small section at the top center. Check out this diagram; the cast-on shown by the white rectangle is the garter tab. Since top-down triangles are worked from the top edge down, we show this diagram as the shawl is worked (upside down!).

Top-down shawl diagram

The garter tab for the All Point East shawl small version begins with a cast-on of 3 stitches. You work 8 rows in garter stitch, then at the end of a row you rotate the work and pick up 4 stitches down the long side edge, picking up from each well in the garter stitch. You rotate the work once again and pick up 3 stitches along the cast-on edge.

You now have 10 stitches on the needle and the work is kind of scrunched up on the needle; this is because you have live stitches radiating out of three sides of a four-side rectangle (the tab). The 3 stitches at each end will make up the garter edges that run across the top edge of the shawl (scroll back up to the shawl photos). The middle stitches will increase and be worked in pattern to make up the body of the shawl.

How does this scrunched up bit of knitting become a big triangle? Well, if you refer back to the diagram, you’ll see that lanes of increases inside the edge stitches and along the center spine create two widening triangles, or wedges, that radiate out from this little beginning tab. As these wedges widen outward, the side edges of the shawl become one long flat edge–the top edge of the shawl. You can see, as I worked a few rows into the shawl pattern below, how this happens:

You’ll find a garter tab beginning in many shawl designs. Try casting on for the All Points East Shawl and practice this method, and use up some of that glorious sock yarn you have stashed all over the house!

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